Older worker having tough job finding employment

“I’m sort of stuck in between where I still have to work for a living.”

Checking the newspaper classifieds is an ongoing process.

Six hours a week might cut it for a teenager still living at home, but not for a 62-year-old.

Yet that’s the reality for Bob Mcmillan, who doesn’t have the ‘luxury’ of living paycheque to paycheque.

He needs a job. Badly.

The 62-year-old Comox resident has many years of management experience. However, he feels potential employers are over-looking him due to his age.

“They look at your level of experience and assume you’re over-qualified,” Mcmillan said. “They do the math in their head and they say, ‘This guy’s older than our manager. We can’t hire him.’ Things like that come into play.”

Mcmillan used to be the kitchen manager at Longlands Golf Course before Quality Foods offered him full-time work at the deli. However, he was laid off after the second Thrifty Foods opened in Courtenay. He has since applied for dish and prep jobs in the Valley, but all he’s been able to muster is six hours a week as a merchandiser at Shoppers Drug Mart — which doesn’t pay the rent.

“I’m literally one step away from busking on the street.”

Mcmillan tried to take an early pension, but the Canada Pension Plan only paid $250 a month. He’s still three years away from the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS).

“I’m sort of stuck in between where I still have to work for a living,” he said. “It’s hard to even get a response back. At one place, a lady asked, ‘Is this for your grandson?’

“I can still perform the same work as a younger person. The only difference is I’m more tired at the end of the day,” he said with a laugh.

But joking aside, Mcmillan finds it increasingly difficult to stay physically and mentally sharp if he isn’t working.

He also finds himself getting depressed.

“When you go day after day after day, you have nothing to do and you have no money, it can unfortunately send you into depression where you don’t even go outside your door for days on end. I’m getting tired of not being able to pay bills. I’m not asking for a lot. If I had 40 hours a week even at minimum wage I could pay my bills. You have to get the interview, you have to get your foot in the door.”

Some might consider Mcmillan to be a victim of ageism, defined as prejudice or discrimination on the basis of a person’s age. A study by Revera and the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research — Independence and Choice As We Age — suggests ageism is the most tolerated form of social prejudice when compared to gender- or race-based discrimination.

“I think it (ageism) works in both directions,” said Tamson Matheson at the Creative Employment Access Society, also known as the Job Shop. “We’ve heard from people who are older workers who feel they can’t get work because people think they’re not able to learn. Or they’re going to cost them more money, or they’re going to be away sick. All those misconceptions. Those generalizations aren’t fair.”

Conversely, some employers might not hire a young person because they think he or she won’t stick around, for instance.

“It may be true for one person, but it certainly isn’t true for every young person out there,” Matheson said. “I think there’s ageism on both ends of the spectrum.”

Matheson is the co-ordinator of a program called Vintage Advantage for those 50 and older. She works with 10 people at a time over a three-month period. It includes resume writing and computer skills.

“It’s a great program for people who are lost or frustrated, or not sure where to go next,” she said. “It has been very, very successful in helping people.”

The first week of the program deals with myths, stereotypes and realities of being an older worker.

“We see the whole spectrum in our program,” Matheson said. “They support each other. The other key thing about older workers is that sometimes they feel like they’re the only one, and they certainly aren’t.”

Matheson sees many retirees, some of whom need to work while others have no pension or insufficient savings. Others, still, might be “retiring from retirement,” she said. “They still have that sense of needing to be productive.”

Volunteering is an ideal outlet for some people, but others feel more attached if they’re paid for their work.

The federal Vintage Advantage program started about a decade ago, in response to the downturn in industry.

Of the 10 people in Matheson’s last group, seven found employment and three started a business.

“They chose to take the skills they have and turn it into self-employment. So that’s another route for some people.”

Others realize they want to do something different than the career they chose.

“Some people are moving into that ‘What-I-always-wanted-to-do’ job,” Matheson said. “Often people have used the term, ‘Life-changing.’ They’ve got their self-confidence back.”

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